The ancient kingdom of Mali began as a small state that broke away from Ghana during its decline. It formed in the early 1200s and gradually took over neighboring powers until, by the end of that century its territory included all of the old kingdom of Ghana. During this early period, one of Mali’s kings, Sundiata Keita, did much to organize the country. He established a permanent army and divided Mali into provinces, each one administrated by a general whose responsibility was to keep the peace and provide food for the people. Sundiata used his armies to clear land and support Mali’s agriculture, and he reopened trade routes across the Sahara that had earlier been cut off by war. Agriculture flourished under his rule, and farmers grew surplus crops that the government collected as tax.
Another famous king of Mali was Mansa Musa. Musa was a Muslim and introduced Islamic culture to the country. In 1324, he made a 3,000 mile journey to Makkah, and increased the prestige and power of Mali. He had 12,000 servants on the journey, each one carrying bars of gold. And he gave away much of this gold to poor people along the way. He brought back a Spanish architect to his capital at Timbuktu. That city became a center for Muslim art and architecture. Eventually, Islamic influence improved general education, written records of business and law, and trade.
In 1337 the famous Arab explorer, Iben Battuta traveled through Timbuktu on his final journey of a lifetime of trips (totaling about 75,000 miles).
In the 1330s Berbers from the north began raiding Mali’s territory and took over Timbuktu. In the south, people living in the kingdom rebelled because they had lost control of their own territories. Mali gradually lost power and by the 1500s had split up into several small states.
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